Sundance 2015: Jack Black's 'The D-Train' is the Ultimate Bromance
by Ethan Anderton
January 24, 2015
Over the past decade, we've seen the rise of the bromance, mostly popularized by Seth Rogen and James Franco with films like Pineapple Express and The Interview, or even Jonah Hill with Michael Cera and Channing Tatum in Superbad and 21 Jump Street repectively. But the new indie The D-Train starring Jack Black and James Marsden takes the bromantic comedy to a whole new level, and it makes for an absolutely hilarious and wild ride. If you want to keep aspects of this comedy in the dark (which I recommend), then stop reading after the fourth paragraph and then just come back for the final paragraph.
Dan Landsman (Black) is one of those guys who just tries too hard, and it really gets on the nerves of most people, especially those on the high school alumni committee who are having trouble rounding up people to attend the 20-year reunion. Dan keeps giving himself nicknames like D-Fresh, and is far too controlling with the high school reunion's Facebook page password, and it's things like that which keeps the crew from inviting him out for drinks. His wife (Kathryn Hahn) clearly feels sorry for him, especially since his lack of confidence and social life has turned him into a poor source of inspiration for their teenage son.
But Landsman is suddenly invigorated with new energy and a plan that will turn him into a hero in the eyes of his peers when he notices that former classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) is in a Banana Boat suntan lotion commercial. Immediately thinking Lawless is a Hollywood hotshot, he believes if Lawless attends the reunion, it will get the rest of the graduated class on board. So he concocts a fake business deal to get his old-fashioned technological impaired boss Bill (Jeffrey Tambor) to let him go to California, just so he can convince Lawless to go to the reunion.
The premise is certainly illogical, but those problems are far from thought with Black and Marsden on screen, and the comedy that comes from Bill accompanying Dan on the faux business trip at the last minute makes you forget about just how poor and destructive of a plan D-Money has crafted. Black makes for the perfect ingratiating townie while Marsden steals the movie as just the right amount of Hollywood douchebag in Lawless, though he's not really a successful actor, stuck living a dumpy one bedroom apartment. And while the escalation of the fake plan, which results in Lawless posing as an interested business partner, is funny on its own, the surprising development of Dan and Lawless' relationship is what takes this bromance to another level.
*Note: I recommend seeing this movie without knowing the next plot point. It's your choice!*
The game-changer comes after a night of partying in Los Angeles, which includes heavy drinking and some cocaine and weed, Dan crashes at Lawless' place, where the two end the night with a surprising hook up, complete with an intense make out session. Let me be clear, it's not the thought of two guys making out that brings a fit of laughter, but it's the sight of the handsome Marsden ripping open Black's shirt, revealing his beer belly and kissing him passionately that is a riot. The characters and actors themselves couldn't be more mismatched on a number of levels, so seeing them in this romantic fashion is outrageous and funny as hell.
From there, everything just snowballs in the worst way possible, and things just get worse for Dan. The film gets increasingly silly, but never to the point that this feels like one of Adam Sandler's awful comedies. It's never slapsticky, and it doesn't go for cheap laughs. Sexual double entendres are used sparingly and to great effect, but honestly, what keeps the film on the rails is Marsden. The actor never plays the character over-the-top, and keeps everyone else's feet on the ground, even Black, who occasionally borders on taking his character to a caricature level of acting.
Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel make their directing debut from a script they wrote themselves, and they've weaved a fun, darker comedy that doesn't just rely on Dan's emotional and sexual attraction to a classmate he admires for seemingly having the life of which he could only dream. Instead, these confusing feelings are combined with the increasingly worrisome fake business deal, and every scene involving that subplot finds Tambor being the perfect clueless boss, trusting in Dan at every turn. Marsden's performance steals the movie, but not enough can be said about how truly funny Tambor is in this movie as well.
The D-Train has the best straight-up comedic performance from Jack Black since School of Rock. Meanwhile, James Marsden makes a good argument for why he should be doing comedies pretty much all the time, playing his character with the right amount of self-aware parody to make it that much more endearing. Paul & Mogel have put together a comedy that is vastly superior to their previous big screen scripting work on Yes Man, and The D-Train is an admirable, bold directorial debut that should make the duo quite the commodity when it comes to directing in the comedy world.